Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: brotherly love

The community of believers

The New Testament depicts the church as a building which has Christ as its foundation, and as a body of which Christ is the head. In both of these illustrations it is evident that the church is much more than the sum of its members. The reputation of the church should be based upon the reputation of Jesus Christ, not on the reputation of its members or its pastors.

If the church is a building (a temple), then all the elements of the building must be linked to the foundation and joined together in such a way that each part helps to hold the building up. A ramshackle building with pieces falling off and holes in the walls would not give one much confidence that this is the church of the Living God.

If we view the church as a body, then to see this body with arms and legs flailing about because of a dysfunction in the nervous system that does not allow them to receive coordinated direction from the head would give a similarly dismaying picture.

Yet isn’t this pretty much the picture that is given by the so-called “invisible church”? It seems that every joint and sinew has a different doctrine of how the body should function. The result is frenetic activity, but very little forward movement. The world looks on bemusedly and wonders where God is in all this confusion, or if there even is a God.

Yet God is at work. Many good and wonderful things are happening through men and women who are earnestly serving God and their fellow men. May God be praised for His goodness and mercy.

There are others who have become sidetracked by the love of acclaim and financial rewards. Sometimes there are spectacular flame-outs that bring the whole Christian enterprise into disrepute. There are others zealously promoting man-made doctrines that cause confusion, discord and ridicule.

The New Testament pattern is of a close-knit community of true believers, where each one seeks the well-being of the others and none are motivated by a desire for praise or gain. The spiritual leaders are servants, not lords. Decisions are made by unitedly seeking direction from the Holy Spirit.

There are times when such a body may seem to have almost fallen asleep as it considers the circumstances before it and examines all angles and possibilities. When direction comes, the body can move quickly and God will bless and uphold the steps that are taken.

“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

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The weakness of the law – any kind of law

The confederate flag is disappearing all over the US South. That should make black folks feel more like they belong, shouldn’t it?

At least it’s a symbolic act, one that shows that racism should not have any part in a society that calls itself civilized. Yet I fear that Mr. Roof is symbolic of a deep-rooted attitude in many people that will not so easily be changed. The laws have already been changed and black people should have all the rights and privileges of other citizens, yet  —

He who is convinced against his will
Remains of the same opinion still.

A long time ago, the apostle Paul wrote: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). He is even more emphatic in Galatians 2: 20-21 — “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

The law, and this applies to any kind of law, cannot make people good. Laws, teaching, indoctrination, law enforcement, all have their place in maintaining order in society. But it is only the transforming power of the blood of Jesus Christ that can erase jealousy, hated, bitterness and replace them by love.

The very idea of racism is contrary to Christian faith — there is only one human race, we are all descended from a common ancestor, we are all made in the image of God. The idea of there being different races of mankind originates with Charles Darwin, who taught that the white race was the most-favoured race and would prevail and eventually replace the other races in the struggle for survival. Not many people like to remember that, but he did teach it quite explicitly.

God makes no distinctions between people, why should we? Christians should be a model of how all the world should live. Can we follow the model of the world in making a difference between people without compromising the faith?

Grace for daily life

We have gone hurtling through the sky in a series of hollow metal tubes and are now safely home. We left a week ago today, flying by WestJet from Saskatoon to Winnipeg and Winnipeg to Montréal and came home two days ago by the same airline, flying Montréal to Toronto and Toronto to Saskatoon. We were seven or eight miles up in the sky and saw nothing but fluffy white stuff below us, except over Saskatchewan. Both going and returning we could see the ground beneath us as we flew over our home province. It was nice to watch the ground below, but worrisome, too. Clouds would be welcome here; we need rain. There have been a couple of little showers since we got home, but serious rain is needed. Québec, on the other hand, is a lush, dark, green. We had forgotten how beautiful it is.

This trip, the planning and the trip itself, was a whole series of grace moments. I was invited to come to a meeting in Quebec of the Publication Board of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite and the French Editing and Proofreading Committee, of which I am a member. It had been many years since we had visited Quebec and I was enthused, but I wanted my wife to come, too. She was unwilling at first, fearing it would be too tiring (she is coping with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia). After a few days, Chris said she would come.

Then it was announced that there would be revival meetings in our congregation during the days we planned to be gone. The day before we left, it was announced that one of the ministers who planned to come to our congregation couldn’t make it and the meetings were postponed until further notice.

So we left, feeling the Lord was blessing our trip already. The meeting on Friday was a pleasant surprise, we found the Publication Board to be more enthusiastic about our work than we had expected. They are pushing for more books to be translated and prepared for publication. Perhaps pushing is too strong a word, we did not feel that they were being pushy, but they certainly weren’t wanting to apply the brakes. They see the need and said there was money available for more publications.

Then the visiting began. We had no definite plans before leaving home, but everything fell into place once we were there. There are congregations in Montréal and Roxton Falls. We last visited Roxton Falls 10 years ago and hadn’t been in Montreal for 18 years. We lived in Québec for five years and many of the members are old friends. Others we knew only by name. I had never met two of the members of our committee. Their voices were familiar from conference calls, and I had formed pictures of them in my mind. They didn’t look anything like I had imagined.

I considered it a special grace that this was the weekend when the Montreal congregation had an evening service and that we received an invitation to ride along with one of the Roxton Falls ministers and his family to that service. Thus we were in church at Roxton Falls in the morning and in Montréal in the evening and got to meet practically all the members. One couple is in the process of moving from Montréal to Roxton Falls and we missed seeing them.

Chris enjoyed the trip as much as I did and was no more tired than I was when we got home. It was altogether a blessed time, possibly more of a revival than if we had stayed home and the planned revivals had happened.

Is Jesus’ “ground crew” the real problem?

Some folks have been heard to say that they love the Lord, but the don’t have much use for His ground crew. I confess that my first impulse is to be sympathetic to their point of view, having encountered a number of questionable representatives of that group. That impulse is tempered by the realization that I might be someone that such people wouldn’t want to be part of the ground crew.

What kind of a ground crew would gain the confidence of those people? To hear them tell it, they want to be introduced to a warm, friendly Jesus who will be their buddy and tell them the way they life is just fine with Him and everything is going to be all right in the end. Some preachers come pretty close to offering such a Jesus, but most everyone knows this Jesus is an imposter.There appears to be an irreconcilable gulf between the desire to live a meaningless life and the desire to be accepted by a meaningful Jesus.

Jesus Himself is the real problem. He says very divisive things like: ” I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me;” “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple;” ” If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”

He demands our full, unconditional allegiance. He says that His way is the only way to find peace and happiness. That’s pretty exclusive thinking; there are all kinds of religions out there that promise peace, fulfilment, happiness. Don’t they all promise the same thing? Isn’t one just as good as another?

The thing that some people eventually figure out is that Jesus is the only one who can deliver what He promises. All the other ways leave people feeling alienated, angry, fearful, worthless. When we follow Jesus we learn that we are loved, that we are valuable in the sight of God. And we learn to love other people in a way we never could before.

That last point is tremendously important. Someone who claims to know Jesus but can’t get along with others, doesn’t really know Jesus. I can imagine that Jesus and I are in complete agreement and that anyone that does not see things as we see them is an enemy. That is deception; that’s just not how Christian faith works. ” If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

Our job, if we are part of Jesus’ “ground crew”, is not to describe Jesus as we imagine Him to be, but to introduce people to the real Jesus. The more we become like Him, the better we should be at that introduction.

The healing power of forgiveness

There is a great peace that comes over us when God forgives our sins, a release from the load of guilt that we have been carrying and a soothing of the pangs of conscience. Yet we tend to soon forget the caveat that comes with this peace: ” But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:15).

Other people do and say so many irritating and hurtful things. Surely they should apologize and ask our forgiveness so we could feel better about what they have done. Some will, but we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for every single person who has ever wronged us to come and apologize.

The apostle John tells us: ” If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it” (1 John 5:16). He goes on to say that “all unrighteousness is sin,” that is, everything that is not done out of a pure heart is prompted by our own sinful tendencies, aided by the tempter. No matter how minor they may be, they are sin. Yet, as long as they are not deliberate, wilful sins, we should not consider them grounds for separation of Christian fellowship. We should rather pray for that brother, and hope that he prays for us when we do or say hurtful things that we really did not intend to be hurtful.

“Charity shall cover the multitude of sins,” (1 Peter 4:8). Charity is a healing balm in our Christian fellowship that helps us forgive others, accept them and feel accepted by them. There are serious sins that require a sterner approach, but let us consider two things. First, those sins are first and foremost sins against God. We should not put ourselves in God’s place in the judgment seat. Secondly, could it be that those sins are a result of a lack of charity among us? Let us examine ourselves lest the lack of charity become a stumbling block to others.

How much emotional distress, in ourselves and others, would be relieved if we could just learn to more ready to forgive? “So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow” (2 Corinthians 2:7). This was said in the circumstance of someone who had repented of a very serious sin. Surely it would not be wrong to apply it in less serious circumstances.

It is good to be zealous in upholding that which is right and true. We need to be careful however, that in our zeal we do not do more harm than good. There is a way to take a stand for the truth that does not leave people with bruised and hurt feelings. A readiness to forgive does not mean an acquiescence in sin. If we cannot forgive, we cause ourselves to suffer and do no good for the person who has sinned. When we freely love and forgive we have a much greater opportunity to point others to the source of forgiveness.

Prayer

“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).

How can we know if our prayers are effectual? How can we know if they avail anything? How can we know if they are fervent enough?

Daniel Whedon, in his commentary, considers that the original Greek words translated “effectual fervent prayer” denotes prayer that is prompted and energized by the Holy Spirit. This turns the questions around: am I listening when the Spirit prompts me to pray for a condition in my life, in the life of someone else, or for conditions in the world around me?

Sometimes we will know whether such a prayer has availed, or been effective; most of the time we won’t. When I pray for forgiveness for myself, I should be able to know that my prayer has been answered. If not, perhaps I am holding something back, unwilling to confess the seriousness of what I have done, unwilling to face the consequences. When our repentance is complete and unqualified, we will know that a burden has been removed and we are free before God. Perhaps there are things we need to confess to others, wrongs that need to be made right, we should also pray for courage and grace to do them as the Spirit leads.

We should pray for our family, the church, our ministers (and not only for the Sunday morning sermon), and our governments. We may never know what those prayers have accomplished, yet we need to pray as often as the Spirit prompts us.

We are disturbed and perplexed by the growing power of the forces of darkness in our land, and often tempted to blame the government. Perhaps the real problem is that Christians have not prayed as they ought for those in authority. We should also take into account that the situation could be much worse if there were no Christians praying for those in authority. Our prayers for those in government will accomplish far more good than our criticisms in casual conversation with our neighbours.

The apostle John’s instructions on prayer give us further direction: “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.” (1 John 5:14-16).

Here is the assurance that if our prayers are prompted by the Holy Spirit, they will be heard in heaven. Here is also the instruction to pray for the faults we see in our brethren. They may do and say things that are not really in accord with Biblical teachings about how a Christian should conduct themselves. We are probably not so much aware when we do the same things, but feel hurt and offended when our spiritual brothers and sisters do them. These things spring from the corruption and weakness of our human flesh. As long as these are not wilful sins, the apostle tells us to pray for our brothers and sisters and God will have mercy on them. Hopefully they are doing the same for us. There is no such promise of a happy outcome if we talk to each other about the faults and weaknesses of others. Let us then be fervent in praying for one another.

The red rubber ball theory of church growth

red-36598_1280 (2)Why does a rubber ball bounce? The key is found in polymer science. The chemical formula for the rubber molecule is (C5H8)20,000+. C5H8, a single unit of the molecule is called a monomer, the complete molecule, a long string of 20,000 or more monomers, is called a polymer. The classic illustration is to think of raw rubber as a mass of cooked spaghetti. A mass of raw rubber may appear to be solid, but it is still technically a liquid as these polymer strands can slide past each other, causing the mass of rubber to slowly spread and flatten out.

The application of heat, usually with sulphur added as a catalyst, causes these molecule strands to cross link to each other at random points along the molecule string. This is usually done in a mould to shape the rubber into the desired finished product, in this case a rubber ball.

The scattered cross-linking allows the finished product to be stretched, but as soon as the tension is released the cross-linked molecules will snap it back to its original shape. It can be compressed, but as soon as the pressure is released it will likewise snap back to its original form.

When a rubber ball is dropped on a hard surface, the bottom will flatten out. The cross-linked molecules will immediately push the ball back to its original round shape, which pushes it away from the surface it was dropped on. We say that it bounces back.

The church growth movement that began some forty years ago taught that Christian congregations should be organized along the lines of people who have a natural affinity: a common ethnic background, or a similar education or type of employment. It seemed a defeatist mentality, assuming from the outset that people of different backgrounds and different interests could not worship together.

That assumption was based on the observation that too often a congregation would fracture along those lines. Yet accepting defeat is not the way to victory.

The New Testament gives a different picture. The apostle Paul described the members of a congregation thus: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) and “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

Some may take this to mean that Greeks, Jews, Barbarians and Scythians immediately lose their distinguishing characteristics upon becoming Christians. Take care here, he also says there is neither male nor female and from what he wrote in other places we can safely assume that he did not mean to say that men and women would become indistinguishable and interchangeable. We know where that leads. What he is saying is that all are of equal value in the sight of God and thus should be counted equally worthy of love and honour in the eyes of fellow believers.

For this to happen there needs to be cross-linking between the different groups. Family is important, ideally each extended family forms one of the strands that make up the congregation. But if members of this extended family do not form strong bonds with members of other families, ethnic groups or other natural affinity groups, when pressures and stresses arise the strands will slide right past each other and the congregation will fragment.

Love is the catalyst that makes it possible for Christians to bond together across lines of natural affinity: “And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (Colossians 3:14).

The apostles all emphasize this. James instructs us to not have respect of persons, to confess our faults one to another and tells us that there is no partiality in the wisdom that comes from above. John says “And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also” (1 John 4:21). Peter says “see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1 Peter 1:22).

Paul speaks in Colossians 2:2 of being knit together in love. When we are knit together in love so that we bounce back from pressures and tensions, then we are experiencing the blessing that he describes in Ephesians 2:19: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God”.

Things I am thankful for

I know that it is still three weeks until Thanksgiving Day, but there are many things to be thankful for every day and I want to tell you about the things that I am thankful for right now.

My wife arrived home Thursday from a nine day stay in Edmonton where she was helping an elderly cousin who recently moved there from Saskatoon. I was glad she could go and help, and even more thankful when she came home. I was working while she was gone, plus taking care of the household chores. Some of the ways that she does things that seemed odd to me before make a lot more sense after having to do them myself.

Our youngest grandson had surgery to correct a lazy eye that same day. I am thankful that went well.

Pookie, our little white cat who had an encounter with a dog is back to his normal energetic self. He doesn’t look too good yet, but the wounds are healing with no more sign of infection.

A young couple whom we have not seen for ten years dropped in on us Saturday evening. They live in Québec and are out for a short visit with their oldest son who is working on a farm here. I said young, but that is from my perspective, Kevin must be 45 and there is some gray in his beard. We have known both of them, and their parents for years and it was a special treat to have them in our home, even if only for an hour.

There was a welcome at church this evening for a young couple, Renaldo and Brenda, (mid-thirties this time) who are moving back here after spending the past eleven years in Alberta.

Renaldo spent time in voluntary service in Montréal when in his youth, during the time that we were missionaries there. We had been living in Ontario before going to Montréal. Three young brethren from the Swanson congregation came to visit him. One of the three was Ken Klassen who first laid eyes on his future wife during that trip. He is now our son in law and the father of our grandchildren.

Brenda doesn’t remember the first time we met, as she was not yet four years old then. In January of 1981 her parents and their little children made a stop in our home in Ontario. At that time I had always counted on my wife to cut my hair, but she had undergone surgery a couple weeks earlier and wasn’t able to do it. Somehow it was mentioned that I was getting a little shaggy and Brenda’s father offered to cut my hair. We got out the clippers and the job was quickly done. Brenda doesn’t remember that, but her mother was there last night and she does. Then Brenda put me on the spot and asked if I remember the time she had been in our apartment in Montréal when she was 16. I had to admit that I had forgotten about that.

I am thankful for all the little things like this that bind us together as our paths cross and recross over the years.

Is Christianity a subculture or a counterculture?

Subculture, a cultural group within a larger or predominant culture but distinguished from it by factors such as class, ethnic background, religion, or residence, unified by shared beliefs or interests which may be at variance with those of the larger culture. A group within a culture, distinguished from it by features of custom, conduct, etc.

Counterculture, a culture having values or lifestyles that are in opposition to those of the current accepted culture. A movement that actively rejects the values of the prevailing culture in favour of other ones.

The definitions above come from two dictionaries. In each case the first definition is from the Canadian Oxford Dictionary and the second from the Nelson Gage Canadian Dictionary. In simple terms, what these definitions are telling us is that people within a subculture are marching the the drums of the zeitgeist, heading in the same direction, but wearing a different uniform. People who belong to a counterculture are marching to the sound of a different drummer and heading in a different direction.

Which definition best describes evangelical Christianity today? Zeitgeist is a German word that has entered common usage in English. The Nelson Gage dictionary defines it simply as the pattern of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period of time.

Here are some characteristics of the zeitgeist, which will also be characteristic of a subculture, but not a counterculture; followed by Bible passages that indicate what the Christian attitude should be:

Consumerism, a lifestyle in which buying and consuming goods is the prime interest. “And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15).

Materialism, a tendency to care more for material possessions than spiritual needs. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

Self-esteem, a good opinion of oneself. “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3).

Egocentric, seeing everything in relation to oneself. “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (Matthew 5:11).

Individualism, emphasizing the importance of individuals as opposed to that of a group. “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).

Pietism, an emphasis on a personal relationship with God independent of a relationship with fellow believers. “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. . . . If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? (1 John 4:12, 20). “ I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

The transformed mind

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Romans 12:2

The first phrase of this verse is often quoted by Mennonites; many words have been spoken over the pulpit and written in books about the doctrine of non-conformity to the world. However, after hearing this for many years we have the unfortunate tendency to focus on avoiding certain things that we identify as worldly, keeping some distance between ourselves and “worldly” people, and therewith comforting ourselves that we are not conformed to the world.

When that happens, we are missing the true import of Paul’s message. First off, “this world” is a translation of the Greek word aion, which refers to an age, or period of time. If we consider the verse as a whole, it should be evident that the antithesis of conformed and transformed is referring to the way we think. The apostle is warning us not to allow our thinking to conform to the prevailing spirit, attitudes and feelings of the era in which we live (the zeitgeist), but to allow our thought patterns to be transformed and patterned after the will of God which does not change from era to era.

Secondly, this verse is the introduction to a wealth of instruction about what it means to have our minds transformed. This instruction continues up to the first few verses of chapter 15. I will not quote what the apostle says, you can read it for yourself, I will just give a brief exposition of several main points.

Brotherly love
Paul exhorts us to love without dissimulation, that is with no hint of hypocrisy. Neither should we hold back our expression of love and appreciation for our brothers and sisters. We have all been given different gifts to be used for the benefit of the brotherhood, let us be fervent in exercising those gifts, and in encouraging others to exercise their gifts for the benefit of others.

Enemies
We should live peaceably with all men, not seeking vengeance when we are wronged, but rather doing good to those who have mistreated us.

Government
It should be a matter of conscience with us to be respectful and obedient to those in authority, except in those rare instances where they attempt to compel us to do something that is contrary to the faith. Governments are faced with conflicting demands from many powerful groups in our land. They cannot satisfy everyone, nor can they make the kind of sweeping changes that some Christians seem to expect. Politics is the art of compromise, it is really no place for a Christian. Yet we should pray for all those in government, at all levels, and appreciate it when our governments make small steps that protect our freedoms. Critical and derogatory remarks about the makes of our laws, and the enforcers of those laws, should never be heard from the mouth of a Christian.

Those who are weak in the faith
We should not criticize, much less ridicule, those who are weak in the faith. Rather, we should love them and be careful that our actions and attitudes are not a stumbling block for them.

None of these instructions are telling us that we should be people pleasers, afraid to say or do anything that would be a little different from the attitudes and actions of our peers. A transformed mind is a mind that is tuned to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, leading to a transformed way of life. As we individually follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves walking side by side with fellow believers. Attempting to achieve this unity by our own attempts to conform to what we perceive to be the values and priorities of our peers leads only to disappointment, hurt feelings, jealousy and discouragement.

Here is how Paul concludes his instructions on being transformed by the renewing of our mind:

Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God. Romans 15:5-7

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